The Arkansas State Red Wolves have clocked a week of Spring practices, awakening within us the usual primal urges (posing unanswerable questions and answering them with non-factual facts). Many prognosticators have already declared the Sun Belt a three team race, with A-State battling the Appalachian St. Mountaineers and the Georgia Southern Eagles. Are the Red Wolves up for the challenge? Let's ask ourselves some provocative questions and then make up some answers.
Q: How huge is the Big Sac for the Red Wolves?
In years past, spring weather has reduced or even eliminated practice sessions. Not anymore! Despite several incidents of lousy Jonesboro spring weather, the Red Wolves haven't missed a single day of practice thanks to the new Student Activity Center (The SAC), available for the first time for Spring. Not only does the Big SAC* provide a dry place to practice, it provides exceptional lighting for propaganda videos.
*The Big SAC is not a nickname that has caught on, despite my Herculean efforts – JH
Q: Who will earn the inside track at quarterback?
A: It's a thee-and-a-half man race
Normally, filling a QB vacancy is cause for hand-wringing. But the mood around Red Wolves Universe is pretty cocky in this regard. The incumbent, James Tabary, is reportedly acting and performing like a QB1 in practice, throwing the pill with the strength and velocity A-State's deep stable of wide receivers love. Justice Hansen, the former 4-star out of Oklahoma, is still learning the system but looks good as advertised. Raising eyebrows is 3-star recruit D.J. Pearson, who redshirted his freshman year. Pearson provides the most "Fredi Knighten-like" dual-threat weapon (except Pearson is about 4 inches taller). Meanwhile, Cameron Birse, the redshirt junior from California, continues to receive reps and push his teammates. Despite his skills and work ethic, Birse isn't considered to be a threat. Yet.
Q: Will the Monster D return in 2016?
A: Yeah, only much scarier
The Red Wolves gobbled up turnovers and sacked QBs with frightening efficiency last year, making DC Joe Cauthen one of the most popular men on campus. In 2016, the Monsters are back: Money Hunter, Cody Brown, Ja'Von Jones, Xavier Woodson-Luster, Blaise Taylor and more return to terrorize offenses across the countryside. It gets better. What? Bo Sentimore and Tajhea Chambers return from season-ending injury, and heralded sack monster Dee Liner finally suits up for the Red Wolves. It's truly difficult to imagine how this squad could regress.
Q: Are The Big 3 transfer athletes for reals?
A: They are real, and they are spectacular.
The Red Wolves not only enjoyed a solid recruiting class, Coach Blake Anderson and staff also landed several high-profile transfers during the off season. So far, they've emerged as leaders on the team (with the exception of Texas Longhorns transfer Kendall Sanders, who won't be able to practice until summer.) Cameron Echols-Luper, the transfer from TCU, has put aside his QB aspirations full-time to focus at wide receiver, and his speed is said to be everything you'd expect for a world-class track athlete. Dee Liner, the former pass rusher for the Alabama Crimson Tide, reportedly looks like a monster on the defensive line, impressing with his 4-star size and speed. The Big 3 of Echols-Luper, Liner and Sanders is expected to make huge contributions for the Red Wolves in 2016.
Q: Are the Red Wolves as fast as hyped?
The talent speed on the Red Wolves roster is said to be incredible: Echols-Luper, Sanders, Omar Bayless, Darvean Brown, Chris Murray and Daryl Rollins-Davis are all legitimate speedsters who will have opposing defenses shaking their angry fists to the sky.
Dan Dodd on WR speed:— HowlYes (@HowlYes) January 15, 2016
"I think that we're gonna be able to put a group of wideouts on the field can run as good as anybody's in the country.
But it's not just the physical speed that will be noticeably different in 2016. The Red Wolves are also taking the pace of play up a notch. New OC Buster Faulkner is taking advantage of his roster's speedy talent and is transforming it into a speedy offensive unit – that was already pretty damn quick.
A-State WR Sterling Stowers says Buster Faulkner's offensive pace is twice as fast as Walt Bell's . . .— HowlYes (@HowlYes) March 14, 2016
-Buster Faulkner's offenses were fast: MTSU ranked 20th in adjusted paced compared to #AState's 22nd. https://t.co/uJPnj8W6OM— Kara Richey (@Kara_Richey) January 13, 2016
The early word out of Jonesboro is that the offense is already running at an insane pace, which should make opposing defensive coordinators lose several hours of sleep this year.
Q: How are the new assistant coaches working out?
A: So far so good
The major position Coach Blake Anderson was forced to address this year was at offensive coordinator. Anderson did a nice job of swiping Buster Faulkner from Middle Tennessee. Faulkner brings a more pass-focused offense and an even quicker pace of play. Anderson was also tasked to address the RB and offensive line coaching positions thisyear, and found solid candidates in Norval McKenzie (formerly of Furman) and Allen Rudolph (formerly of the CFL). McKenzie inherits the services of TD machine Johnston White and the elusiveness of Warren Wand, so whatever the former Vanderbilt RB can bring to the table is gravy. Rudolph has many seniors returning to the offensive line, but will be tested next year when the position suddenly becomes really thin.
Q: Can this team deliver another championship to A-State?
Even with the loss of A-State stalwarts like Fredi Knighten, J.D. McKissic and Tres Houston, the Red Wolves look to be improved on both sides of the ball. (Replacing Luke Ferguson at kicker seems to be the biggest challenge.) The only real question is, can the roster acclimate to Buster Faulkner's game plan in time to face the Toledo Rockets to open the season? Perhaps we'll know more by the Spring Game on April 15.